First species counterpoint



Audio: first species counterpoint (0:09)

First species counterpoint
Figure: first species counterpoint

first species counterpoint plays first species counterpoint sung by two voices in the key of E phrygian. The first species counterpoint figure shows the score. The number between the two staffs represents the interval between the notes in the two parts.

First species counterpoint deals with notes in two melodies that are sung or played simultaneously.

Rhythm does not feature in first species counterpoint, though it does in later species. All the notes are the same value. The actual duration is unimportant and the convention is to use a whole note. A time signature is not needed either, nor bar lines, although you can include them if you wish.

Counterpoint melodies are often said to be independent. This does not mean that writing two distinct melodies and playing them both together constitutes counterpoint. The result may well be harmonious but it cannot be called counterpoint unless it follows certain rules.

Counterpoint has rules. Lots of them. They govern melodies, intervals, and the relative motion between intervals:

  1. Contrapuntal melody focusses on the horizontal dimension of counterpoint, the melody. A counterpoint melody is written according to rules that govern the motion of the individual notes in a melody.
  2. Contrapuntal consonance focusses on the vertical dimension of counterpoint, the interval. There are rules governing the use of intervals. Every interval is classified as consonant or dissonant. Some consonant intervals are allowed in all species of counterpoint. One dissonant interval, the tritone, is banned outright. The status of the remaining intervals vary, meaning they are allowed in certain circumstances but not in others.
  3. Contrapuntal motion focusses on the motion of parts relative to each other. It is the most complex area of counterpoint because it simultaneously deals with the horizontal dimension, melody, and the vertical dimension, interval. Contrapuntal motion is concerned with the motion of intervals.